Earlier this week, I spent a few days in the beautiful city of Vienna, and while I enjoyed the great weather and Mehlspeisen
(flour based specialties, dumplings and the like) I also met with a few craftsmen in town. Of course, the first name that probably comes to mind – in terms of fame – is Knize am Graben. Sadly, I was not at all impressed with the store or the goods that were offered; the lack of knowledge on part of the staff also led me to believe that their best days seem to have gone by. However, another shop brightened my trip – I had the chance to visit Ruth Sprenger in her Vienesse tailor shop.
Located at Liniengasse 46 near the Westbahnhof in a residential neighborhood, you will find Ruth Sprenger’s unpretentious atelier. There she welcomes, measures and fits her clients and makes every garment herself from cut to finish.
Ruth Sprenger was born into a tailoring family in Dornbirn, Austria in 1972. As such, she started collecting tailoring magazines and items from a very early age. Interestingly, she is not only a full fledged bespoke tailor for ladies and gentleman but she also holds a masters of philosophy. Initially, she learned women’s tailoring only and had no real interest in switching to men’s clothing.
However, her teachers recognized her talent and asked her repeatedly to work on a men’s jacket and eventually, she gave in. After she had become a real master tailor, she was able to apprentice with Alfred Konsal, who – according to her – is one of the best tailors in Austria and in Europe. Luckily she was able to learn from him over a period of two years, as Konsal’s only apprentice in the last 38 years.
Ruth Sprenger Bespoke Garments
When I entered the store I immediately noticed two things: one, the sheer number of customer patterns and two, the wealth of unusual garments. For example she had a number of evening tailcoats in her atelier and bespoke children’s garments that she had tailored for her daughter and son. After a little while, she showed me a photo book of her work which included vintage garments from the 18th century and double breasted business suits. As a true tailor, she makes everything from suits, coats, shirts, ties, etc that can be sewn, but the most difficult and satisfying garment is the men’s jacket in her opinion.
Personally, Sprenger prefers a natural silhouette of her garments, meaning she uses as little padding as possible, very soft interlinings and not much drape. However, the garment also must harmonize with its owner. As such, she is perfectly willing to deviate from the house style if need be.
When I asked her about the philosophy of her garments, she said they need to be natural and underline the wearer’s personality. Throughout her career, she learned how garments were made completely by hand and while she is perfectly capable to sew an entire suit by hand, she is not a dogmatist. During her apprenticeship with Konsal he would also question: “Why are we doing it that way?” and “How could it be improved?”. As such, she uses the machine only if it produces a superior result. Now, unfortunately, there is no general standard for “best” or “better” but I do agree with her that hand work is not always the ultimate in terms of quality. Of course, it takes longer and hence costs more, but a dart or a back seam sewn with a machine is in my opinion cleaner and more durable. On the other hand, pick stitching, collar and shoulder are better by hand.
The Sprenger garments I saw had a Strobel machine sewn canvas and machine sewn darts, but handmade buttonholes, hand sewn lining, pick stitching etc. Overall, it was every bit as soft as a totally hand-tailored jacket, but chances are her machine sewn seams will outlast the hand sewn ones.
In the past she had a client who tried to have her garments copied more cheaply in Asia. Upon his return, he realized they were able to copy the measurements exactly but the garment still fit differently because they simply could not reproduce all the little details of Ruth’s work. Also, it is very important to iron the fabric with heavy irons to create a three dimensional body shape that fits.
She only produces about two garments a month and hence, her suits are quite exclusive. A regular two piece suit will cost you 2700 € plus cloth, and it usually takes 3 fittings and 4 – 8 weeks of time. Of course, if you come from abroad, she is willing to work with you on a schedule over time so you don’t just have to wait so long, but still – good things take time.
Philosophy & Book
Unlike many craftsman, Sprenger is interested in preserving the art of bespoke crafts and tailoring, and therefore she tried to breach with the secretive tradition of the Austrian trade and published a book about bespoke tailoring for consumers. Her hope was to better educate the customer as to the bespoke process and cost. Luckily, the first edition of Die Hohe Kunst der Herrenkleidermacher (The High Art Of Men’s Garment Makers) 2000 books has already sold and currently the 2nd edition is available.
I really enjoyed her enthusiasm for sharing her knowledge, but it also surprised me that she does not use the internet at all. Of course, I totally understand that a craftsperson is first and foremost focused on their craft, and not marketing. Though, writing a book certainly requires quite a bit of time and effort as well and while it is a marvelous “business card”, one can probably reach more readers online nowadays.
And make sure to pay her a visit next time you are in Austria’s capital if you are interested in a bespoke suit – I am sure you won’t find many other tailors who are willing and able to tailor even the most unusual garments.Ruth Sprenger Schneidermeisterin
Tel +43 1 5236570